|Supporters of Chinese Civil Society leader Xu Zhiyong
unveil a banner in support of the activist the day before his
trial started in Beijing’s Haidian District on Jan. 22, 2014.
The Chinese Human Rights Defenders
(The Chinese Human Rights Defenders, January 23, 2014) – On the eve of Chinese New Year, a Beijing court held a closed door trial of the prominent Chinese civil society leader, Xu Zhiyong (许志永). Seized in the Crackdown on Assembly, Association, and Expression that began in earnest in March 2013, Xu along with dozens of activists, lawyers, and citizen journalists have been detained for demanding top officials disclose their wealth and for urging the government to ensure equal access to education.
Linked to the New Citizens Movement, several of these activists will be put on trial this week. Xu and the others are all accused of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a public place” (Article 291 of the Criminal Law), for which, if convicted, they could be sentenced to up to five years. They were seized for organizing an anti-corruption campaign and a drive to demand equal access to education by children who do not hold the household registration (hukou) in cities where their parents, often migrant workers, work. The New Citizens Movement is spearheaded by Xu Zhiyong (许志永), a law professor, activist, and former elected local delegate to the People’s Congress in Haidian District, Beijing.
Xu stood on trial on January 22 at the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court. Xu and his lawyers remained silent throughout court proceedings to protest the serious violations of legal procedures, but Xu spoke in his closing statement. He told the judge, who interrupted him repeatedly, and other officials packed in the tiny courtroom:
“We are certainly not guilty. We didn’t have the intent to disrupt public order, as our purpose was to promote the country’s democracy and rule of law. We didn’t commit the act of disrupting public order, as we were only practicing constitutionally prescribed free speech. We didn’t cause any damaging consequences of disturbing public order since nobody’s legitimate rights were affected. Of course, I am clear that social progress always demands somebody pays a price. I am willing to pay the price for faith in freedom, justice, and love, for the beautiful future of China.”
Prior to Xu’s trial, police blocked several major intersections surrounding the courthouse and restricted the movement of dozens of supporters who had applied to attend the hearing, including placing some under house arrest. Beijing authorities also reportedly monitored places where petitioners gather in the capital, conducting searches and detaining many of them. In front of the court building, many of the supporters who managed to arrive were soon dragged away by police. Among them were the lawyer Liang Xiaojun (梁小军), and activist Chen Yunfei (陈云飞). Both were released several hours later.
The trial of Zhao Changqing (赵常青), veteran democracy activist and a former political prisoner, was suspended today, January 23, after two hours of proceedings at Haidian District People’s Court in Beijing after Zhao dismissed his lawyers. According to his lawyer Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠), Zhao protested against the unfair legal proceedings, and requested the court send the accusation statement back to the prosecutors. He announced that he decided to release his legal consul and will authorize other lawyers to represent him, saying his current lawyers are “exhausted.” His wife was allowed to attend the trial, though her request to bring their child so Zhao could see the child was denied. The trial will now be delayed until after the Chinese New Year. At least one supporter was reportedly dragged away by police outside the courthouse.
In the coming days, the Haidian District Court will put on trial Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), Zhang Baocheng (张宝成), Yuan Dong (袁冬), Ma Xinli (马新立), Hou Xin (侯欣), and Li Wei (李蔚). Pre-trial hearings were also held on January 20 for Guangdong activist Liu Yuandong (刘远东) whose case may also go to trial imminently.
Besides the arbitrary and politicized nature of their detentions, these activists have suffered a myriad of other rights violations. On several occasions, lawyers were blocked by police from meeting their clients and some have been physically assaulted. Zhao Changqing was held in solitary confinement in a tiny room in a Beijing detention center, and deprived of food before a pre-trial hearing on January 20, which he attended in handcuffs that were only removed after demands from his lawyers.
Court authorities rejected defense lawyers’ requests to have the hearings open to the public and, instead, arranged to stage the trials in small courtrooms and turned away the public by citing “limited space.” Judicial authorities also rejected the lawyers’ request to have all the Beijing activists that are detained in connection to the campaigns of the New Citizens’ Movement tried as co-defendants in a single case, even though prosecutors accuse the activists of committing the same act as a group.
The courts also allowed an inadequate period of time, only a few days in some cases, for lawyers to review the case files, including the prosecutors’ “evidence” against their clients. The lawyers were barred from making copies of the files, which is permitted under Chinese law. The courts also rejected applications by hundreds of people to attend the trial as witnesses.
Perhaps the most egregious abuses have occurred in Jiangxi. Activist Liu Ping (刘萍), who was tried in early December, was reportedly tortured after being taken into custody in April 2013 and over ensuing months. However, the court that heard her case dismissed evidence of mistreatment and refused to call for an investigation into the allegations (see report). Initially delayed in July, trial proceedings for Liu and two other Jiangxi activists were suspended in October after their lawyers resigned over blatant violations of the defendants’ legal rights (see report).
The verdicts have still not been announced for the trials that took place last year of activists arrested in the Crackdown, and the fate of those defendants is very much in limbo. In September, Jiangsu activist Gu Yimin (顾义民) was tried for “inciting subversion of state power.” Two of the three Jiangxi activists could be jailed for more than five years, as Liu Ping (刘萍) and Wei Zhongping (魏忠平) were tried for multiple crimes, while Li Sihua (李思华) faced a charge of “unlawful assembly” which carries a sentence of up to five years. In Anhui Province, activist Zhang Lin (张林) was tried on December 18, with proceedings ending after just six hours.
“The trials are a farce. They have brought to a climax the suppression of civil society activism during President Xi Jinping’s first year in power,” said Renee Xia, international director of CHRD. “Chinese leaders are using these trials to send a stern warning to China’s increasingly emboldened activists who challenge the government on issues ranging from unfair access to schooling to lack of transparency. But they don’t even provide the manipulated publicity Bo Xilai had during his trial for fear of spreading the ideas – justice and rule of law – that Xu Zhiyong and his colleagues are defending.”
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